One of my earliest memories as a child is of being at playgroup, standing around the sandbox with a little boy. We were happily playing with the sand and various plastic objects when one of us worked out that if you spat into the sand it changed the texture. Instead of being dry it went hard and crumbly. And so we then spent a happy while spitting in the sand, making the dry grains turn into little soggy sand balls.
Then the teacher saw what we were up to, told us off for spitting, made us pack away the sandbox and that was the end of that.
A funny little insignificant memory, until I had my own children. And then I realised that spitting in the sand all those years ago was really just a simple act of two children discovering the world. And a classic case of those two children seeing only innocent wonder in something new, but the adult seeing only mess and naughtiness.
I think I’ve based my parenting style on this little story over the years. As much as I have boundaries and don’t allow my kids to run wild (most of the time!), I’m happy for them to explore, make mess and not always play by the rules.
Like the other day.
After a fairly short-lived painting session, as always, Oliver asked for a sink bath. This involves me running the kitchen sink full of tepid water and bubbles and a nudie Ollie hopping in to clean off, while I clear up the painting paraphernalia.
It happens every time. It’s part of the painting-at-home ritual and he stays in there for hours. Sometimes he just pours water, other times he might do the washing up. He’s always very content.
On this particular day, after wiping paint splatters off the dining table, I returned to the kitchen to find Ollie making some serious potions. There was painty water all over the floor, squirts of hand cream all over the place and the half full bottle of washing up liquid was empty.
I guess I could have told him off for wasting washing up liquid and my nice hand cream, or for making more mess for me to clear up, or for splashing more paint all over the place. But I left him to it. He was so happy, I didn’t have the heart to say anything. And I really didn’t mind. He was in there for an hour and a half. Lila slept, I cooked dinner and chatted to him while he played.
Last weekend in a similar scenario I found Ollie with his toolbox playing a lovely game in the kitchen that involved tearing off bits of clingfilm and placing them here there and everywhere in a trail over the kitchen tiles. I have no idea what he was doing, but he was engrossed. And again, I left him to it.
Then there are the times I let him leap up from the dining table without waiting for everyone to finish, because he suddenly has a burst of imagination and is desperate to play a game he’s just created.
And as much as I probably should be consistent with table manners and the like, I just can’t bear to squash all this creativity for rules and regulations. Of course I agree that manners are important and rules are necessary, but I don’t want to be that parent who only ever sees things through adult eyes.
So tell me, because I’m really interested to know - are you a stickler for rules or do you let your kids do things like this in the name of fun and exploration? Am I too relaxed?! Is this going to come back and bite me one day?!